The Bible says in Numbers 29: 9(NIV): “So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived”. This goes to show that curing ailments via natural means have existed since biblical days. Natural healing was practiced by the Isrealites. No medications were prescribed by Moses when the people were bitten by the snakes.
All they had to do was look back at the bronze snake made by Moses and be healed. This principle is akin to homeopathy which believes that ‘like treats like’ or ‘like cures like’. The basic principle of homeopathy is that a substance that triggers a certain disease can also be used to treat that disease. This is referred to as the “Law of Similars” and existed in Moses’s era.
Nature cure craze and charcoal
In recent times, there has been some kind of revolution in our cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries in Ghana, as it appears they have gradually accepted that it is time to return to Nature. Thus, the inclusion of mainly natural ingredients in the manufacture of many cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. Though it appears these industries have returned to Nature, they have done that using modern science.
The likes of Ernest Chemists have formulated an all-natural cough mixture which tells us that the pharmaceutical industry is returning to Nature. Today, Charcoal infused products are the new trend in the world of wellness and cosmetics. Charcoal has become an essential ingredient in commercial face masks and body scrubs, while some people also swear by it for whitening their teeth. As a result, floss, mouthwash, toothpaste and even toothbrushes infused with activated charcoal that promise to whiten teeth and “detoxify” the mouth are also being manufactured.
Activated charcoal; the type used in beauty products and toothpaste; is a fine grain powder made from wood, coconut shells, and other natural substances that are oxidized under extreme heat. Our forefathers proposed charcoal way back for teeth whitening but we neglected it. Today, it is back with modernity.
Market value of charcoal
According to Prescient & Strategic Intelligence, (2019), charcoal is valued at US$5,882.8 million. In 2018, the global charcoal market was projected to surpass US$6,566.5 million by 2024, witnessing a CAGR of 1.9% between 2019 and 2024.
Among all the regions, Middle East & Africa are expected to witness the fastest growth in the industry during the forecast period. Latin America was the largest charcoal market during the historical period (2014-18). The market growth in the region is driven by industrialization, increasing cement production and growth in the food industry, mainly propelled by the surging popularity of barbecued food. Considering the future industry scenario, Brazil is expected to lead the LATAM market, generating revenue of nearly US$2 billion in 2024, owing to an increase in the production of steel, iron, and several other metals.
This can be mainly attributed to the increasing demand for charcoal for barbecue and increasing urbanization across the region. Additionally, the increasing awareness on a healthy lifestyle is also a driver.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), almost 40% of the energy produced in Africa is from fuelwood and charcoal. Apart from this, charcoal is being used as a filtration agent to eliminate oils, pesticides, salts, and toxic chemicals from the air and water in the region. Thus, the many end uses of charcoal are expected to drive the charcoal market growth in the region in the coming years.
Fig 1. Global Charcoal Market. credit- Prescient & Strategic Intelligence, (2019)
Fig 2. Drivers for Charcoal Market. credit- Prescient & Strategic Intelligence, (2019)
Fig 3. Major Markets for Global Charcoal. credit- Prescient & Strategic Intelligence, (2019)
The science of activated charcoal
Originally, activated charcoal is used extensively in the clinical setting, especially in emergency medicine, to manage cases of accidental toxin ingestion. Consequently, a study by Juurlink, (2016) revealed that activated charcoal is a well-established treatment for some poisons and acute overdoses.
In an emergency situation such an overdose of pharmaceutical and over the counter medications, Juurlink (2016) explained that a growing body of observational data demonstrates that single-dose activated charcoal can elicit substantial reductions in drug absorption in acutely poisoned patients. It’s important that the proper amount is administered as quickly as possible — definitely within an hour of ingestion.
Aside of this clinical use of activated charcoal, a 2017 review by Brooks et al., of charcoal-based toothpastes published in the Journal of the American Dental Association found that 96% of charcoal toothpastes claimed to have whitening benefits and 46% boasted of the ability to detoxify teeth.
In light of this, there are many charcoal toothpaste products being marketed and in most drugstores today. Activated charcoal is highly absorbent and used medically to absorb and remove toxins. Most charcoal toothpaste brands don’t contain fluoride. There are also soaps being marketed which are infused with charcoal.
It can be seen from the evidence above that Nature cure is the deal now. There are many scientific benefits of activated charcoal. For instance, Jain et al., (1986) study found that Activated charcoal pills or powders can be beneficial in alleviating uncomfortable gas and bloating. Another study by Hulten et al., (1986) also demonstrates that when activated charcoal is taken at the same time as alcohol, it can significantly reduce blood alcohol concentrations. This is further affirmed by Princeton University’s First Aider’s Guide to Alcohol which indicates that activated charcoal is administered in some situations related to alcohol poisoning.
Hope, (2013) study also found that activated carbons, or charcoal, has effective binding capacity and is able to produce a significant reduction in mold absorption. Charcoal has also proven to be an effective agent for removing 90% of mold in a tested solution.
In water filtration, one study by Konno et al., (2008) found that activated carbon filters (activated charcoal), remove some fluoride.
For skin and body care, Chakravarthi et al., (2008) study demonstrates that activated charcoal infused products help reduce foul odors that are associated with blistering disorders and extensive skin loss. It can be used to reduce odor when combined with baking soda.
Activated charcoal products are also good for the digestive health. One study by Naka et al., (2001) found that “activated charcoal demonstrated lower binding capacity to the normal bacterial flora tested than that to E. coli O157:H7 strains.”
It is also an anti-aging agent. For instance, one study by Rafati-Rahimzadeh et al., (2014) found that it is able to remove organic and inorganic compounds from the body, and it tightly binds with metallic compounds. Finally, it fights cholesterol levels (Kuusisto et al.,1986). In this study, total cholesterol decreased by 25%, LDL cholesterol decreased by 41%, while HDL increased by 8% in just four weeks. Study participants took three doses of eight grams each for the period of the study.
In conclusion, we believe it is time to pay attention to our natural health industry and we end with this statement by Jesus in Mathew 9: 17: And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved. No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, the old is better. Nature Cure is the new wine!
Prof. Raphael Nyarkotey Obu is the president of Nyarkotey college of Holistic Medicine and final year LLB Law student. He also holds an MBA and is a Chartered Management Consultant in the natural health industry. Lawrencia Aggrey-Bluwey is an Assistant Lecturer with the Department of Health Administration and Education, University of Education, Winneba, and is currently a PhD student in Health Policy and Management at the University of Ghana Business School.